Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Ian Nelson, John Corbett
Directed by Rob Cohen
Having risen from the ranks of the Fly Girls to enjoy stratospheric heights of success as a mediocre pop star, a notable Hollywood actress, and now a lovable, ridiculously well-paid reality television judge, is Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo to her peeps in the Bronx and your grandmother who continues her awkward attempts to be hip and “in-the-know”) now trying her hand at being a bankable Scream Queen? Still suspiciously ravishing after all these years (skin care products containing the placentas of cherubic French babies and whipped sheep semen can work wonders), perhaps Lopez is looking to the horror genre to help garner new fans and produce more off-center roles – parts that have certainly been made available to other A-listers once their mass appeal diminishes, forcing them down the path of B-movie matinee idols. Or maybe she’s just taking whatever comes her way at this point.
With The Boy Next Door, director Rob Cohen, the man responsible for kicking off the Fast & the Furious franchise (i.e., the greatest series of action films in modern history), serviceably directs a mostly predictable thriller that doesn’t deliver enough action inside or outside of the bedroom.
The titular bohunk turned psychopath in question is Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman), a 19-year-old high school senior now living with his wheelchair-bound uncle after his parents were involved in “an accident.” Together, they look like Rick Rossovich and William Hickey from the “Tales From the Crypt” episode “The Switch” directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sandborn leads with his bicep, but it’s a means to an end: J-Lo’s end. First, he sweetly wants to sweep her off her tired, suburban feet, but then, in typical fashion, he grows obsessive and mettlesome.
It’s okay to root for Claire (Lopez) as a sexy Mom who’s recently separated, thanks to a past affair by her husband (John Corbet) on a business trip in San Francisco, a city historically famous for its association with free love. Claire is an English teacher passionate about the classics, but she’s quietly suppressing the fire within. When the time comes to throw caution (and her summer dress) to the wind, the sex doesn’t seem as forbidden and hot as it should. The scene starts to live up to the R rating of The Boy Next Door and might have had the potential to beat 50 Shades of Grey to the punch, but it holds back even though this should be Claire’s moment to go for broke.
The first reel is pretty sexy though, featuring a scantily clad Lopez in flowing fashions that highlight her curves (yes, that curve in particular). Once she’s the victim of Noah’s growing obsession, the story forbids her from being sultry. School is back in session and the summer of love is over. The indiscretion would never happen in the fall when the school year starts up again because that’s when the bell rings and hunting season begins.
Surprisingly, but also somewhat insulting because of how elementary the discussion is, Claire and Noah connect over Homer’s The Iliad, bringing painful flashbacks of freshman English to the audience potentially and delusions of grandeur for Noah. Everything he does is a twisted, soap operatic interpretation of the hero’s journey, but what he ends up running is a fool’s errand that starts as starstruck puppy dog love and turns into a mad dash towards the climax involving tantrums, kidnappings, and murder (at least for some of the co-stars).
The Boy Next Door is definitely a thriller because it doesn’t have the unapologetic death count a horror movie would if found in the same position. There are deaths, but they’re not too graphic, and some deaths could be seen as somewhat justified because some of the victims have sinned and Noah is brewed in lustful obsession. Does it have enough deaths to be in contention as horror? No. Are they graphic enough? Not quite. Although the ending does walk the line and even teeters over a little into horror territory, showing disfigurement and a little shock in its fiery conclusion.
The fact that it’s not quite a horror thriller is something Blumhouse Productions seems to recognize. The company grows more synonymous with the genre with each new release, and they are smart enough to know that A Boy Next Door doesn’t fit within the brand of atmospheric ghost tales and high-concept scares that Blumhouse is becoming known for thanks to the Insidious and Purge franchises.
Lopez herself is no Scream Queen and she’s much more suited to roles like her great turn in Out of Sight and even the second half of Enough where she takes control and starts kicking ass in her empowerment version of Sleeping With the Enemy. When she does finally let out a horrified yelp towards the end of The Boy Next Door, the scream sounds like it’s coming from a woman who’s gone to great lengths to protect her vocal chords.